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No one has yet reported that Giffords has spoken or made sounds. She can swallow and breathe on her own and follows commands to lift an arm or a leg.

Kelly said a doctor told him she’s doing better than 99 percent of other people with this type of injury. He said he’s not providing any updates on her condition to avoid speculation by strangers.

“It’s not something I feel comfortable talking about,” he said.

When asked if Giffords might be well enough to attend his launch, he replied: “Absolutely. I have every intention that she’ll be there for the launch. I’ve already talked to her doctors about it.”

Giffords, 40, was meeting with constituents when she was gunned down. Six people were killed and 13 were injured in the rampage; a 22-year-old suspect is in custody.

Kelly’s space mission will be Endeavour’s final flight and the fourth for him. He will lead a veteran, all-male crew to the International Space Station.

A Navy captain, he entered the astronaut corps in 1996, along with his identical twin Scott, who’s currently circling the planet as the space station commander.

Two astronauts now in management positions sat at Kelly’s side during the 47-minute news conference, televised live on NASA TV. They had chosen a backup commander just in case. After Kelly approached them a week ago about rejoining his crew, they discussed it with NASA flight surgeons as well as Giffords‘ doctors. They told him to wait a week and try easing back into training, to see how it would feel being apart from his wife. He flew training jets twice this past week, did a four-hour launch simulation and even went out of town.

In the end, NASA officials agreed he was ready to return to the shuttle commander’s seat. Chief astronaut Peggy Whitson explained that it’s better to fly someone who’s been training for the past 18 months, like Kelly has, than to plug in someone new.

There’s considerable training between now and the April 19 launch target date, almost certainly with long hours and few days off for the crew. The six astronauts will go into quarantine a week before the launch, with limited access to family.

Kelly acknowledged that he considered what would happen to Giffords and the rest of his family if he died on the mission.

“Spaceflight is a risky business. Apparently so is being a member of Congress. We each take risks everyday in our lives,” he said.

He assured his bosses he will not change his mind about flying, no matter what happens between now and then. When he resumes training Monday, he’ll face a longer work commute. He’s moved into a friend’s home in downtown Houston to be closer to Giffords‘ hospital. As for when he’s in orbit, he said he’ll make do with e-mail updates and his mother-in-law will make any necessary decisions about his wife’s care while he’s gone. By then, his brother will be back home and lending support.

The mood in the news auditorium at the space center was subdued. Before the event began, Kelly read over some note cards and sipped water. He took no questions from any of the 20 gathered journalists once the news conference ended, quickly leaving the room.

He wore a blue wrist band that bore a peace sign, a heart and the name “Gabby.”

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